Prince Harry’s memoir Spare smashed records upon its publication in January, becoming the fastest-selling non-fiction book of all time. The prince is the latest in a long line of royals and courtiers to publish their life story, with many of the revelations and bombshell claims contained within the book’s 410 pages earning him equal parts praise and criticism.
Though Harry’s book has perhaps posed one of the most significant threats to the royals’ public image since the start of the new reign, its controversial publication does not compare to a now little-known memoir written by a royal housekeeper in 1995 exposing the true nature of the then-Prince Charles and Princess Diana‘s troubled marriage.
So controversial and legally problematic was The Housekeeper’s Diary: Charles and Diana Before the Breakup written by ex-staff member Wendy Berry, that Charles obtained an injunction against her ultimately banning publication in Britain.
Berry, who worked for Charles and Diana at their country estate Highgrove from 1985 to 1992, fled Britain and published the book in the United States where publisher Barricade Books cited the First Amendment as its legal right to do so.
Published two years before Princess Diana’s untimely death at the age of 36 in a high-speed Paris car crash, the book, published with the words “Banned in Britain” printed on the cover, provided deeply personal descriptions of the royal’s relationship with her husband, both physical and emotional, as well as lifting the lid on life behind palace walls.
Royal lawyers argued that Berry should be held to the confidentiality agreement she signed when she entered royal service in publishing the fly-on-the-wall book and the courts ultimately agreed, granting the prince the right to any profits made by Berry off of the project.
Though the prince had won the financial order it was not possible to obtain the money while Berry was out of the country. She moved between the U.S., Canada and Ireland in a state of exile until she was finally traced living in Britain in 2000, where she returned to care for her two sick sons.
Speaking to The Daily Telegraph at the time, Berry said how much the fallout from the book had negatively impacted her life: “I am absolutely out in the wilderness. I have had a miserable time having to live abroad away from my family.”
On Charles’ apparent fury over her book, the former staffer said: “Everyone who has read my book thinks I have done [Charles] a great service. It showed him in a good light. I said he was a good father.”
In the days after her discovery in Britain, a spokesperson for Charles announced that he would not pursue further legal action against Berry, and would not seek to recover the financial settlement, though the book remained banned under his previous injunction.
“The Prince of Wales does not condone Wendy Berry’s book,” the spokesman said, per UPI, going on to reference Berry’s family situation. “In the circumstances, we are not proposing to take any further legal action and have told her so by letter. We reserve our right to take action should she seek to disclose any further information.”
To this day, the contents of The Housekeepers Diary have not been published in full in Britain despite the book selling over 100,000 copies in the U.S.
Berry was not the first royal staffer to publish a tell-all memoir and in subsequent years has proven not to be the last.
In 1950, the former nanny to Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret, who had been extremely close to the royal family, earned swift punishment for publishing her memoirs revealing intimate details about the princesses’ upbringing.
Though seemingly tame by today’s standards, The Little Princesses caused Marion Crawford (known as “Crawfie”) to be frozen out of royal life for good, leaving her Kensington Palace grace-and-favor home for a life in rural Scotland.
In more recent years, a number of Princess Diana’s former staff members have also published their own accounts, though none have faced the level of legal censure directed at Berry.
Perhaps most famously, in 2003 Berry’s former co-worker, butler Paul Burrell, published his memoir A Royal Duty after the sensational High Court trial where he was accused of stealing hundreds of items from the late princess’ estate.
The case collapsed after evidence was provided that he had told the queen he was storing the items for safekeeping.
Burrell published a full and florid account of his life with Diana at Kensington Palace, including intimate details about her private life and personal relationships.
Ahead of its publication, both Prince Harry and Prince William condemned the book, calling it a “cold and overt betrayal.”
“It is not only deeply painful for the two of us, but also for everyone else affected and it would mortify our mother if she were alive today,” the royals’ statement said. “And if we might say so, we feel we are more able to speak for our mother than Paul. We ask Paul please to bring these revelations to an end.”
As a member of the royal family, Harry is not bound by the confidentiality agreements signed by members of the royal household which eliminated a legal barrier to his publishing his own memoirs.
James Crawford-Smith is Newsweek’s royal reporter based in London. You can find him on Twitter at @jrcrawfordsmith and read his stories on Newsweek’s The Royals Facebook page.
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